It’s Windows 10 day

It’s Windows 10 day. That means it’s time for a completely biased and in-no-way-even-remotely-objective assessment of Windows 10.

The internet is filled with people trying to act all objective about Microsoft and Windows 10, and explain what it all “means.” I’m forgoing all of that this round. This review is not from the standpoint of an administrator, or even much of a nerd.

This is the review of one Windows 10 user, evaluating it as the primary work operating system. It is the OS I have used for months, but is it the OS that I will trust my business to, or even want to use in my off hours? Get out the party hats and popcorn and let’s find out!
Okay, so Windows 10 isn’t exciting. In fact, it’s downright boring. The fanfare is strained and the changes are minor. Windows 10 is an evolution of its predecessor, and that’s absolutely fantastic.

For reasons Microsoft could never understand – but which I have tried to explain to them repeatedly – Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 have been greeted enthusiastically. Though they are essentially the same operating system, Windows 8 and Server 2012 were targeted at entirely different audiences that valued entirely different things.

Microsoft didn’t – and still doesn’t – understand what it is either group places value on. That’s okay, Microsoft has deep pockets and it can keep throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. History tells us Microsoft has a one in three chance of getting any given release right, and that’s more than enough to keep its coffers full.

So what’s up with Windows 10? Feedback from the nerdosphere has been all over the map. Many of the usual suspects are saying unusual things. Pro-Microsoft people are panning it. Anti-Microsoft people are praising it. What’s really going on is a bit more complicated.

Windows 10 is a bit crap, but only a bit. Truth be told, it’s actually quite a good operating system. I’ve been running it from the beginning of the open beta and it’s taken everything I can throw at it.

To be perfectly clear: I’m not kind to operating systems. I hibernate my PCs. I fill the RAM up. I hibernate my PCs with the RAM full. I play games the hardware doesn’t really like. I currently have more than 4,000 browser tabs open. Things like that.

Windows 10 takes everything and asks for more.

Windows 10 is faster on the same hardware than Windows 7. Noticeably so, especially if that hardware has an SSD. It’s less frustrating than Windows 8 – well, mostly – and almost as usable as Windows 7.

Thanks to Windows 8 Classic Shell has evolved rapidly over the years. Today, it solves almost all of my UI issues with Windows 10 and even manages to detect when Microsoft has reset things and sets about reinstalling itself and reapplying the settings in order to compensate. Bloody brilliant.

Best of all, Classic Shell is available as part of Ninite, so it just gets installed along with all the other default required third-party software whenever I build a system. Ninite Pro is a reasonably priced and fantastic way to keep all that third party software up to date.

Classic Shell gets rid of (most) of the stupidity Microsoft inflicted with Ribbon Bars in various bits of the UI and it replaces the completely broken, utterly useless and ridiculously poorly designed (probably by committee) abomination that is Windows 10’s Start Horror. Push button, receive mindspiders; this, at least, is solvable.

The Start Screen of Windows 8 is properly banished. The new notifications tray/basic settings widget thing is actually quite nice. Overall, most of the UI dings have been hammered out.

So the first crap part of Windows 10 is the above-mentioned Start Horror thing. It shouldn’t be. I cannot say enough mean things using enough colourful invectives. It’s awful. But, as mentioned above, it’s fixable.

Microsoft has mutated Windows Explorer into a Ribbonesque horror of additional awfulness. This is only partly fixable. It’s the worst bit and probably the thing that will drive most power users away, if anything ends up driving them away.

Settings in Windows are inconsistent. Some are in the “Settings” Metro app and some are in the Control Panel. It takes a few hours to sort out what’s where, but since there’s really only two places to look it’s honestly not that big of a deal.

The colour palette options are pretty broken. People who prefer “dark themes” are probably going to have trouble using Windows 10. If this is actually fixable, I haven’t figured out how yet. Windows 10’s customization capabilities seem strictly limited compared to previous versions of Windows.

There are some more specific issues that have irritated individual bloggers and tech journalists, but the above is the stuff I think the “average” user will notice and care about.

There are some potential deal breakers with Windows 10. To start off with, the VPN client is crap. It really does not like connecting to older VPN servers and its behaviour under many circumstances is inconsistent to the point of seeming non-deterministic. I’ve seen problems with it straight through to the release version.

Microsoft’s spying on you is pretty awful. Windows 10 calls home with essentially every last thing you do and search for by default. Finding and disarming all the different ways Microsoft spies on you is difficult at best, and a futile game of whack-a-mole at worst.

It is perhaps not fair to project the experiences of participating in the open beta onto the release version of Windows 10, but I did get pretty sick of having to go in and defang Microsoft’s creepy doll Cortana spymaster every time a major patch came out.

The NSA can go straight to hell, as can any company slurping up my info into data centres where that data can be easily “requisitioned”. I may not be able to keep the NSA out of my data, but I do intend to make the proxy whoresons work for it!

That leads us into the whole “forced patches” thing. I’m not a fan. I understand that some people feel this is the only way to make Aunt Tilly patch. They’re wrong. Aunt Tilly’s computer was shipped to her with Windows Updates enabled by default.

I prefer to not have to fight Microsoft to keep my computer from rebooting and annihilating all my open applications, thanks.

But this is beyond personal preference. Microsoft has completely borked patches so many times during my career that I absolutely refuse to install any Windows patch on any computer I rely on without testing it first. Nope. thanks and bye.

Further adding to my nopeing over forced updates is that I simply do not trust Microsoft, even the littlest bit. Windows 10 is supposed to be on a brand new release lifecycle where major-ish updates will be pushed out with some regularity. I don’t trust Microsoft with this power.

Perhaps more to the point: I don’t trust Microsoft not to push out some horrific UI change or break applications like Classic Shell. Microsoft have broken my trust too many times and done absolutely nothing to earn it back.

Now I realise everything in this “dealbreaker” category won’t matter to everyone. In fact, there is a significant population to whom none of these issues with matter. I said above that this isn’t a particularly objective review of Windows 10. These are simply the issues that tweak my particular constellation of requirements and beliefs and prevent me from deploying it for my use cases.

For all my griping, Windows 10 is kinda not bad. My wife compares it to Canadian politicians. Everyone on offer is at least a little bit crap, but there’s usually one that meets “good enough” standards and probably will do as much good as they do harm. I think it’s an accurate comparison for Windows 10.

Most people don’t want their computers to radically change. They prefer slow, incremental evolution. They like stability. Business especially prefers this. For the most part, that’s Windows 10. It’s really not that much different than its predecessors, and that will make it usable by most.

But usable isn’t enjoyable. When Windows 7 came out there were a few complaints (give me back my up arrow, damn it!) but for the most part there was relief. At long last, here was salvation from Vista and a path forward from XP.

There’s none of that with Windows 10. It’s good enough to use if you have to. It’s definitely a step up from Windows 8. But if you have Windows 7 there’s no sane reason to move to Windows 10 as, ultimately, Windows 7 is still better.

If you don’t use VPNs except to very new servers, you trust Microsoft enough to let them force updates on you, and you’re okay with the digital creepy doll shouting everything you do back to the mothership, then Windows 10 is good enough.

Windows 10: it’s only a little bit crap. And really, that’s better than we could have hoped for.

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